Happy Solstice! So, you’ve got your dirty little fingers on some great plants, you’ve planted them, what now? Here’s three important things to remember through the WHOLE summer:
The sun sends off radiation that the leaves of the plants absorb and turn into energy through the process of photosynthesis, but how much sun does each plant need? On the plant tag instructions, there is usually a sun symbol and some very brief instructions on the amounts of sun that the plant needs. But Full Sun? Partial Shade? What do these mean? They are not as subjective as they may seem. Some key hints:
• Deep or Dense Shade: This means exactly what it says. Look for an area where no direct sunlight reaches the ground. The north sides of buildings or under trees with lower branches and dense leaves are the places for these plants. This doesn’t mean plant in the dark, it means plant in filtered light that doesn’t receive direct sunshine.
• Full Shade: A tough differentiation between deep and full shade. Few plants will need no sunlight and will require a very small amount. Full shade usually means less than 3 hours of direct sun a day.
• Partial Shade (aka Part Sun): These plants are looking for morning or afternoon sun, but no midday sun (between 10am and 2pm). The best spots to find these conditions would be the east or west sides of buildings.
• Dappled Sun: Similar to partial shade. If the sun makes its way through deciduous trees or in the morning or late afternoon, these plants should thrive.
• Full Sun: This can be defined as at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. This can include some or all of the midday hours.
Here are some tips on identifying if your plant is having problems with the amount of sun that it is receiving:
Too much sun:
• Leaf drop
• Brown edged leaves
• Full plant collapse
Not enough sun:
• Healthy leaves but no blooms
• Slow plant growth
• Weak looking, wilting
• Bronzed or reddened leaves
Watering is a little bit of a judgement game based on experience with the type of plant, the weather, the time of year, the soil, and many other factors. However, the easiest route to determine whether or not water is needed is by checking the condition of soil. We generally recommend the “finger test”: stick your first finger in the soil up to the knuckle. If you feel moist soil around your finger, the soil is still good, otherwise it needs watering.
The main tips for watering are to water only when needed, to water deeply and thoroughly, and to focus on the roots. Watering the leaves can promote the spread of disease. It also helps to put mulch (pine needles, bark, wood chips, or compost) on top of the soil to reduce surface runoff and slow evaporation.
Most annual plants in containers will require watering almost every day to thrive. You do NOT want your plants to dryout. They often will not recover fully after a drought.
• Weak looking plants
• Base of the stem is soft and mushy
• Leaf drop
• Spotted leaves
• Pale plants
• Black tipped leaves
Not enough water:
• Slow plant growth
• Leaf drop
It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between overwatering and underwatering as the plant may produce the same symptoms. If you are unsure, look up the watering requirements online for your specific plant. Or if you’re looking to talk to a human about it, come into Zocalo and ask one of our team members and we’ll try help you come up with a more appropriate watering schedule.
The forgotten essential. Every fertilizer contains three elements – nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium – the ratio of which changes depending on what you need to accomplish. Let’s start by looking at how each of these elements works:
• Essential for growth of foliage
• Produces lush, tender, green leaves (or grass blades)
• Is easily flushed through the soil
• Deficiency leads to chlorosis (yellow-green colour) and little or no growth
• Stimulates root growth
• Hastens the maturity of plants
• Promotes development of flowers, fruit, and seeds
• Remains in the soil quite well
• Deficiency can result in slow or stunted growth and purplish discoloration on leaves
• Helps plants tolerate changing weather conditions
• Helps resist disease
• Assists in the food manufacturing process
• Strengthens cell wall structure for strong stems
• Leaches from the soil (not as fast as nitrogen)
• Deficiency can cause weak stems and slow growth
What do the numbers mean?
A 20-20-20 fertilizer (That’s 20% N, 20% P, and 20% K) is your go-to fertilizer for maintaining a balanced environment for all types of plants.
A 30-10-20 fertilizer is higher in nitrogen and is best used for plants while they are in a period of vegetative growth.
A 10-52-10 fertilizer is higher in phosphorous and is great to use during the early stages of growth. New roots love phosphorous!
Organic fertilizers are fertilizers derived from animal or vegetable matter (i.e. compost or manure). These are great to use, but are often quite a bit lower in N-P-K ratios, so you may need to fertilize considerably more often (watch any raw manure as it may “burn” your plants with excessive nitrogen if it hasn’t fully composted).
Once you have chosen a product, reference the label for information on how much to use, and how often. It may take some practice to find the right mix for every area of your garden, but once you do, your plants will thank you!
Our recommendation for most plants is to use a 20-20-20 fertilizer once a week at a slightly lower concentration than is recommended on the fertilizer directions. This consistent feeding allows your plants to receive nutrition through all the stages of growth and maintenance.
If you remember these three essentials (sun, water and fertilizer) consistently, your plants are ready to thrive!